Contact: Rick Fuentes
(St. Paul) July 7, 2020 – Moose Lake nurses have sent Essentia Health a demand to bargain over the effects to the collective bargaining contract created by the company with its takeover of Mercy Hospital. Registered Nurses have been notified that Essentia intends to disregard the contract and unilaterally implement work and benefits changes that will take thousands of dollars from members of the Minnesota Nurses Association.Essentia takes over the hospital officially on August 1, 2020. The hospital human resources department has forced each nurse to re-bid for his or her job and informed MNA members those jobs have changed. Despite an existing contract, Essentia will eliminate sick-time benefits, increase healthcare costs, and drastically reduce retirement contributions, among other changes.
A nurse with five years of experience, for example, would lose two full weeks or 80 hours of benefit time. Essentia proposes that each nurse only receive 217 Paid Time Off (PTO) hours in their new positions. Nurses are also scared that they will lose all the sick time hours they have earned and Essentia will not even pay it out.
“This is a huge loss for me and my family,” said Ann Bigelow, Registered Nurse at Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake. “Losing the sick time hours that Essentia is taking away from me amounts to more than $8,000. This is a benefit I have earned and time that my family needs if any of us get sick.”
MNA has sent numerous requests to both Essentia Health and the Mercy Board of Directors to address the carryover of the existing labor contract, which runs through 2021. Essentia’s only response to this issue was in April, when the company indicated it was not prepared to answer this question.Mercy currently contributes 6 percent to an employee’s retirement account as negotiated per the contract. Essentia has informed nurses and other Mercy employees that match will now top out at 2 percent.
“This will cost us more to be employed by Essentia with a decrease in benefits,” said Marisa Beck, Registered Nurse at Mercy. “How does Essentia expect to keep our experienced nurses here and deliver the excellent care that our patients expect from us?”
Other changes Essentia intends to make include taking away benefit time accrued for stand by hours and eliminating a cap on low-need hours, which are both currently determined in the contract. The latter effect would allow Essentia to send nurses home with no pay whenever management considered there wasn’t enough work for them, and supervisors could cut nurses’ pay as often as they wished. Most labor contracts cap these unpaid, low-need hours at a given amount per year.
“We have been told that we are ‘lucky that we have even been given a job offer, take it or leave it’,” Beck said. “For most of us here at Mercy, this not just a job. Providing healthcare in our community is our passion, our career, our life, and we share a sense of pride. I am concerned that will be stripped away from us as well,” she continued.
Nurses are also fearful of changes to the health benefits for the plans they pay for and earn. The cost of a new Essentia family plan will be $2600 per year higher than the same plan with Mercy. MNA has officially filed a Request For Information (RFI) for Essentia’s intended health plan benefits for Moose Lake employees as well as the costs to both employer and employee.
“We are going to have quite a fight ahead of us,” Bigelow said. “We are all more than prepared to take as much time as it takes to get a fair contract,” she said.